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Rapid Antigen test kits imported under emergency tender: Prof. Jayasumana

The government opted to go for an emergency tender process in the importation of Rapid Antigen test kits to Sri Lanka, as 1.25 million test kits are required during the next three months. The import was done, however, on the recommendation of the Epidemiology Unit, said State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof. Channa Jayasumana.

He said that there are two types of tests carried out to identify the coronavirus: one is the PCR test and the other is the Antigen test. He pointed out that the Antibody test is done to detect antibodies in the body in order to confirm the disease after infection. “Hence, there are only two available tests to detect COVID-19, and they are the PCR and the Rapid Antigen test, as we don’t do the Antibody test,” he said.

Prof. Jayasumana said the Epidemiology Unit had told the Director-General of the Medical Supplies Division that based on the current level of COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka, approximately 250,000 tests per month is required.

“In this context, the requirement for next three months, along with the two months’ buffer stocks, would be 1.25 million tests, this forecasting is based on the current state of the disease in the country, in case of a change in the disease pattern that needs to reverse the estimate will be informed in due course,” Epidemiology Unit had said.

Prof. Jayasumana said WHO has validated two Rapid Antigen tests and 20 PCR tests under emergency use listing. “However, the Antigen test is not done in place of PCR tests. It is used instead during mass testing during a rapid spread of the virus,” he noted. The State Minister said that the Secretary to the Ministry of Health had held discussions with WHO on numerous occasions and eventually managed to obtain some test kits, but WHO had informed him that it will take two weeks to send those test kits.

“The Health Secretary managed to get 200,000 Rapid Antigen test kits through the WHO office in India; through the Asian Development Bank, we were able to get another 300,000 test kits. In order to get the remaining kits, a tender process was started through the private sector, and this was not done ‘under the table’,” Jayasumana explained.

He further said that the tender was not carried out secretly as the members of the Medicine and Medical Suppliers Association was informed about the tender, while the SPC, on its official website, had also published about the tender.

“Don’t distort the facts and level allegations at officials and mislead the country. There has not been any irregularity in importing these rapid antigen test kits to the country,” Prof. Jayasumana added.

 


Rs.200 mn allocated for fishing community hit by COVID-19

The government has allocated Rs. 200 million to purchase fish stocks as the fishing community is finding it difficult to sell their catches due to the COVID-19 pandemic prevailing in the country, it was revealed in Parliament, yesterday.

State Minister of Ornamental Fish, Inland Fish & Prawn Farming, Fishery Harbour Development, Multi day Fishing Activities and Fish Exports Kanchana Wijesekara made this revelation during the adjournment debate on the COVID-19 pandemic situation in the country as moved by the Opposition. State Minister Wijesekara said, “I was listening to many allegations leveled against the government by the Opposition MPs. Among them was a former minister who was planning to lease fishing harbours to foreign countries in violation of country’s law. There was another who was planning to import drugs without the approval of the Cabinet.”

“Recently, the health sector in this country was strengthened by our government. We remember some ministers who were in the previous government becoming self-proclaimed ‘Suwapathis’, but did nothing to improve the health sector. Such people took medicine from Singapore without trusting the health sector of our country. We should appreciate the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, the security forces, and the health sector for their commitment to manage the pandemic.”

State Minister Wijesekara added, “We have conducted 418 PCR tests in our fishing harbors and only three of those 418 were reported to be infected so far. One hundred and seventy-four officers working in the Fisheries Corporation underwent PCR tests today and only 20 of them have become infected today.”

“I would like to thank the fishing community for supporting the health sectors to take necessary measures to control the spread of the virus among them. The Prime Minister gave directions to allocate Rs.200 million to purchase fish stocks as the fishing community finds it difficult to sell their fish stocks. So far, stocks of fish worth Rs.69.8 million have been purchased; we are preparing health guidelines for the fish markets so that they can continue their businesses,” he added.

 


Opposition trying to incite racism amidst COVID-19 pandemic: Sisira

The Opposition is trying to incite racism during the COVID-19 pandemic situation prevailing in the country, State Minister of Indigenous Medicine, Rural and Ayurveda Hospital Development and Community Health Sisira Jayakody said in Parliament, yesterday.

State Minister Jayakody, joining the adjournment debate in Parliament, said, “We would like to commend the measures taken by the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, the security forces, and the health sector to control the pandemic. The Opposition is saying that they would have closed the airports quickly due to the pandemic, but we follow a balanced methodology. We are systematically repatriating Sri Lankans living abroad. We cannot abandon them.”

The State Minister added, “It is the health authorities that advise on the imposition of curfews.

This Opposition does not have one solid opinion on how to manage the pandemic. Sometimes they say not to impose a curfew, but sometimes they oppose their own statements. As we speak, a quarantine curfew is being imposed in Peliyagoda and the government has taken steps to provide the affected families the food package worth Rs.5,000.”

“The Opposition, on one hand, say that deceased Muslim persons should not be cremated, but buried; and at the same time, they question the government’s decision to facilitate Muslims to follow their faith during this trying time. The Opposition is trying to spread racism and use it for their benefit. However, the recommendations of the Health Department regarding the amount of groundwater in the country have to be followed with regard to burials. Therefore, we request the Opposition not to play with the lives of the people of this country.”

 


Rajitha criticises importation of Rapid Antigen test kits

Samagi Jana Balawegaya MP Dr. Rajitha Senaratne was critical of the purchasing of Rapid Antigen test kits in Parliament, yesterday. Dr. Senaratne held the health authorities are responsible for providing guidance to the said importation carried out by the private sector.

He made these observations joining the adjournment debate on the present situation in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, moved by the Opposition in Parliament. MP Dr. Senaratne pointed out that the Rapid Antigen test has relatively a limited capacity to detect the coronavirus.

The MP added that although he had stated since February that both tests would have to be done with an Antibody test, in order for the test to be successful, the Secretary to the Ministry of Health had given his approval only yesterday. He also said the test kits that were brought to Sri Lanka were tested on patients at the Karapitiya and IDH hospitals, but failed; and that Pap tests had to be conducted.

Dr. Senaratne pointed out that the procurement process for bringing the Rapid Antigen test to Sri Lanka was carried out very fast. He said that although there was only one working day from October 28 to November 2, 30 tenderers had competed for the bid. He said, “Following the importation of these test kits, the evaluation done by the National Drug Regulatory Authority was carried out on the October 22 and the kits were released the same day.”

The MP added, “Although these test kits have been approved by the World Health Organisation, they are subject to the laws and regulations of Sri Lanka. If the packaging is not of the proper standard, the regulatory authority will not approve the drug. In addition, MDEC is required to provide a certificate, but its final meeting was held on October 7. However, the date on the certificate issued to the test kits is mentioned as October 19. ”

Dr. Senaratne also said that despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) providing about 500,000 antigen test kits to Sri Lanka free-of-charge, such purchases and the lack of reference to essential PCR kits were a serious problem. He said that even though it was the private sector that had taken up such a move, it was the Ministry of Health that provided guidelines for this purpose.

 


Sumanthiran commends health sector’s efforts against COVID-19 pandemic

TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran commended the efforts taken by the health sector during the past several months in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

Participating in the adjournment debate moved by the Opposition, he said, “That needs to be appreciated in this house,” he added.

However, he added that there are no laws in this country that is geared to deal with these ‘public health emergencies’.

“We don’t have a law to deal with public health emergencies. We have outdated laws like the Quarantine Act... Laws are insufficient to deal with the current crisis,” he pointed out. Citing the quarantine curfew as an example, he noted that there is nothing in the country’s law such as Quarantine Curfew.

“On May 3, I wrote to the Human Rights Commission expressing that lockdowns and curfews are necessary in times like this. But we don’t have sufficient laws to deal with this, and what is being done is not lawful.”

On June 8, the Human Rights Commission had written to the Secretary to the President, making certain recommendations. In that letter, he said that they had stated that calling what is being imposed in the country as ‘quarantine curfew’ was not lawful, and that it needs to be regularised.

“So much time has passed. The government has been advised under the Human Rights Commission Act’s Section 10 officially. They analysed all the laws in the country at present and made certain recommendations,” he said, adding that there is no proper law to deal with this public health emergency.

Sumanthiran also noted that even with regard to the importation of the Rapid Antigen test kits, all these issues has arisen because there is no proper law to deal with this.

 


Kiriella rebuffs allegations about proposals to raise MPs’ allowances

Chief Opposition Whip MP Lakshman Kiriella, raising a privileges issue in Parliament, yesterday, denied him or any Opposition member having proposed to increase the allowances of Members of Parliament.

MP Kiriella pointed out that the discussion at the Party Leaders’ Meeting concerning the matter was based on the proposal made by late MP Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.

Kiriella said, “The facilities of the Members of Parliament are regularly discussed in the Committee on Parliamentary Business, which convenes under the chairmanship of the Speaker. Security, housing, and other facilities of Parliament Members are discussed at this meeting.”

“During the joint discussion on the difficulties faced by the Members of Parliament, I drew the attention of the Committee to this resolution, which was tabled in Parliament by late MP Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. It is only a collective discussion. In the end, the committee decided that although there was a legal basis to the matter, this was not the time to raise wages,” he added.

Kiriella said, “The discussion at the committee meeting was later distorted and published in newspapers and on social media. I would like to call for a correction of this story.”

MP Kiriella also tabled the motion moved by late MP Jeyaraj Fernandopulle in support of his argument.

 


Speaker warns MPs about mudslinging in House

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena warned all Parliamentarians to behave decently and safeguard the dignity of the Parliament, as Parliamentary sittings are being telecast live and the entire country is watching.

Referring to several bouts of mudslinging and insults levelled at each other in Parliament, yesterday, the Speaker noted that certain statements made by several MPs would be removed from the Hansard.

Opposition MP Nalin Bandara made a request from the Speaker to have certain personal-level insults levelled by some Parliamentarians against others to be removed from the Hansard.

 


Prisoners’ court hearings conducted through video conferences: Sudharshini

The government has taken steps to allow prisoners to communicate with their families via telephone and conduct their court hearings through video conferences to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, said State Minister of Prison Reforms and Prisoners' Rehabilitation Dr. Sudharshini Fernandopulle.

Joining the adjournment debate held in Parliament, yesterday, she said that hospitals have been identified for these prisoners to be sent to in the event they contract the virus.

Hence, she appealed to the Opposition to stop claiming that the government has failed and instead to come up with constructive suggestions and support the government in dealing with this national crisis.

State Minister Fernandopulle added that the government has no plans on locking down the country, which would have a negative impact on its economy. The minister also thanked Opposition MP Sarath Fonseka for understanding the situation. Fonseka said there was no point in screaming about the Antigen Test, but that the government should now focus on a vaccine for the virus.

Referring to claims by the Opposition MPs that the government has failed, the Prisons Minister noted that there should be some standard to base these claims on and at least they should refer to the percentage of deaths against the country’s population.

“In India, there are nine times more patients than in Sri Lanka; but in China, it is lesser at 1/10. In the USA, their rate of infection is 46 times higher than Sri Lanka; in Germany, it is 12 times higher. In France, it’s 174 times higher, while in Italy, it’s 25 times higher. In the U.K, it’s 27 times higher than Sri Lanka.”

“In terms of COVID-19 deaths, in India, it’s 4.7 times higher than Sri Lanka, while in China, it’s 17 times higher. It’s seven times higher in the US, 5.7 times higher in Germany, 13 times higher in Italy, and 12 times higher in the U.K.”

Therefore, Minister Fernandopulle pointed out that in comparison to many of the developed countries, Sri Lanka has handled the pandemic better; she called on the Opposition to stop complaining and join hands with the government in bringing the situation under control.

 


Government using pandemic for its own advantage: Harin

Samagi Jana Balawegaya MP Harin Fernando was critical of the actions taken by the government to control the COVID-19 pandemic situation prevailing in the country. Joining the adjournment debate in Parliament, yesterday, MP Fernando alleged that the government is using the pandemic situation to subdue its political opponents.

Badulla District MP Fernando said, “According to the data, the number of COVID-19 cases has increased to 11,000 within the last month. What kind of a control plan is this? At one time curfew was lifted in the Western Province, and then the Army Commander says that some areas are not yet opened. What is the meaning of this?”

“When the whole world is looking for a way to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and on how to help people survive, there are two games played during the pandemic in Sri Lanka. One game is to subdue government’s political opponents, and the other is to find ways for the government’s supporters to thrive on their businesses. It is not a battle to protect people. People in Maligawatte are suffering because they can’t find their daily wage. People are dying on roads,” he added.

MP Fernando also said that he is planning to reveal about sugar theft taking place at a large scale. “At present, there is a company in Sri Lanka that is hiding 50,000 metric tonnes of sugar. I will reveal the name of this government disciple’s name soon,” he said.